Harlem Désir, representative on freedom of the media for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), has called on Turkey to release all journalists behind bars without waiting for another decision from Europe’s top human rights court, which has already ruled against the detention of several Turkish journalists.
In Oslo on Wednesday for the launch of Reporters Without Borders’ (RSF) 2018 World Press Freedom Index, which detailed a historic decline in press freedom in Turkey, Désir tweeted, “i insisted: in #Turkey, 2 years after the coup attempt, the situation is far from return to normal. Nothing can justify that so many journalists are still behind bars or indicted under baseless and false accusations,” adding, “I call on #Turkey to reconsider the situation of all concerned journalists and to release them without waiting for another decision by European Court of Human Rights which already ruled against detention of several Turkish journalists.”
RSF said in the summary of its index: “The world’s biggest prison for professional journalists, Turkey (157th) has managed to fall another two places in the past year, which saw a succession of mass trials. After more than a year in provisional detention, dozens of journalists have begun to be tried for alleged complicity in the July 2016 coup attempt. The first sentences to be handed down have included life imprisonment. The state of emergency in effect for nearly two years in Turkey has allowed the authorities to eradicate what was left of pluralism, opening the way for a constitutional reform consolidating President Erdogan’s grip on the country. The rule of law is now just a fading memory. That was confirmed by the failure to carry out a constitutional court ruling in January 2018 ordering the immediate release of two imprisoned journalists.”
Explaining in more detail in the section on Turkey, the report continues: “The witch hunt waged by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government against its media critics has come to a head since an abortive coup in July 2016. A state of emergency has allowed the authorities to eliminate dozens of media outlets with the stroke of a pen, reducing pluralism to a handful of low-circulated and targeted publications. Turkey is again the world’s biggest prison for professional journalists, with members of the press spending more than a year in prison before trial and long jail sentences becoming the new norm—in some cases, journalists are sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of a pardon. Detained journalists and closed media outlets are denied any effective legal recourse. The rule of law is a fading memory under the now all-powerful president. Even constitutional court rulings are no longer automatically implemented. Censorship of websites and online social media has also reached unprecedented levels.”
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists in the world. The most recent figures documented by the Stockholm Center for Freedom (SCF) show that 259 journalists and media workers were in jail as of April 21, 2018, most in pretrial detention. Of those in prison 200 were under arrest pending trial while only 59 journalists have been convicted and are serving their time. Detention warrants are outstanding for 141 journalists who are living in exile or remain at large in Turkey.
Detaining tens of thousands of people over alleged links to the Gülen movement, accused by the Turkish government of orchestrating a failed coup in July 2016, the government also closed down about 200 media outlets following the putsch.